Obfuscation and film

I’ve put together some lecture slides (CC-BY) on the topic of surveillance film and technical obfuscation. Films dealt with include:

  • Enemy of the State
  • The Conversation
  • Blow-Up

Download Obfuscation.

Download the PDF.

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#Goldingcompletion

Hi everyone,

Dan Golding’s completion seminar pretty quickly developed its own hashtag – “#goldingcompletion” I’ve scraped the tweets, and here’s the (admittedly fairly rudimentary) analysis of the most prolific twitterers. Interesting to note that while almost everyone was tweeting @dangolding he was still only in second in centrality to the discussion – Luke, as @myspaceghost, was as central, if not more so! That’s a twitter champ you can set your watch by!

goldingcompletion

SCC graduate students Facebook group analysis

Hi all,

After some discussion at the July WIP, I put together a quick visualisation of the School of Culture and Communication’s graduate student facebook group. I’ve anonymised a lot of the names, and the visualisation has grouped people on the basis of their affiliations. These affiliations are roughly in terms of the year groups for each of the students, and it’s interesting to see how easily the year groups have divided themselves up. You’ll have to trust me on the year groupings, as I’m not about to release anyone’s info, but trust me that the year groups have been pretty quickly identified.

CCGC Facebook Page

#ANZCA14 hashtag analysis

Summary:

As Travis Holland requested, I’ve made this post in order to pool all my little bits of data analysis of the official ANZCA conference hashtag “#anzca14”. As far as ‘remarkable findings’ go, I doubt there’s anything of real interest, although some people may be interested in reading about themselves 🙂

In terms of tweet publication times, the scraper I used defaults to GMT, and it reports two different times, separated by an hour. I don’t (yet) know an easy way to modify the times, other than just winging it as I write. I’ve excluded tweets that I have made from the results. I also want to shout out to Johnathan Hutchinson for showing me this method.

 

Here goes with the analysis:

#ANZCA14 was the official hashtag for the conference. I collected tweets from the 6th to the 12th of July GMT, which covers a smattering of chatter a couple of days before the pre-conference, right up to the post-conference morning well-wishers.

Our first poster Cinnamon Mind, whose IRL name is likely different, and who I don’t think I met. They posted at 10:36am on Sunday the 6th.

The last post that I collected came from John Tebbut, 10:14am on today, Saturday the 12th.

 

In the period covered – exactly 6 days or 144 hours – a number of different accounts contributed to the #ANZCA14 hashtag, which including many of our keynote speakers, the attendees, and what I think were the chefs at the conference dinner.

Number of unique tweets: 1877

Number of authors: 161

Averaging: 11.71 per person

We can see how this was distributed over the days:

chart1 (2)

Beyond the small wobbles at the start (pre-conference hype), the first peak is the postgraduate preconference, as organised by myself and Emily van der Nagel. We can see that the most tweets occurred at the second peak – the first day of the conference. The second day was distributed throughout the day a bit better, while the last day never reached the heights of all the other days, while extending on a fair bit longer. I think we can attribute this to people having to catch flights out of town, and then trying to organise more and more people on towards post-conference drinks. There’s a very tiny ripple at the end, which I should note is mainly people footnoting things they meant to say during the conference, or wishing people well (or posting long-winded, uninteresting SNA analyses of conferences, amirite?).

Doing some fairly crude arithmetic, which is in no way statistical, we were getting about a tweet per minute during the conference hours themselves. I’ve had trouble getting processing tools to work with any ‘time’ metadata, so the figure it simply based on the number of conference days (4), and the number of conference hours (8 per day, plus 4 overall for the associated conference activities). This comes in at about 52 tweets per hour.

Median tweet value: 1

For those with less statistics than I, the median is the statistical value that’s at the half-way point. It’s not the same as the average, which simply smooths everything out. The average represents an idea of how much people would contribute, if everyone had contributed equally. For the median, we might say that it’s the value that most people experience. We might think of it this way: The average wealth of Australians could be calculated as the GDP divided by the population, but this would not give an indication as to the experiences of most people. The wealth of the 1% would totally distort the economic experiences of the most impoverished in the country. When the value is 1 it indicates that of the people who contributed, most only contributed once. This is different from the average, which would say that people, on average, tweet 11 times. This oversimplifies things, and would suggest that all 161 tweeters had equal investment in contributing, which was clearly not the case. Indeed, the median speaks to the fact that the ‘long tail’ was firmly in effect:

chart1

Our 10 top tweeters and number of tweets were:

Melissainau 131

ElizabHk 123

Reporting4Work 120

myspaceghost 109

MattLoads 93

aaron_humphrey 88

jessamy_sesame 88

travisaholland 83

ggoggin 78

anurbanheart 73

 

Miscellaneous stats:

These are going to be facts (factoids) that make you go “hunh”, rather than “wow!”

 

1) Our biggest retweeter was ElizabHk, for whom 46% of the tweets were retweets.

 

2) As I already mentioned on twitter already, our most central scholar was Jason Farman – he eclipsed all others users by being in interaction with over 160 other tweeters during the conference. Next was  Johnathan Hutchinson with 74.

 

3) AShieldsDobson was the most generous retweeter, with 100% of their tweets being retweets.

 

4) (Probably) the most retweeted tweet was this one, by Edwina Throsby:

I haven’t worked out 100% how to get the data about RTs out of the program I’m using, but it was the only thing that I saw that had more than 3 retweets.

 

5) At least one other hashtag seemed to get small amount of use: I scraped #anzca2014 and found 8 tweets from early in the conference from people who either bowed out at that point (1 person), or got on the #ANZCA14 gravy train.

Only 58 tweets led to having replies – I’d initially described this as a non-dialogue. As Rowan Wilken noted, that’s probably because we’re not intending Twitter to be the site of ‘real’ dialogue, but rather as a means of broadcasting the panels we had observed. Anthony McCosker added to this that the metadata is perhaps not indicative of how discussions were unfolding anyway. I agree with both of them, and have a belief that a lot of the dialogic communications were happening face to face.

 

Visual analysis with Gephi:

I’ve used Gephi, following some blog posts I found, to create a visual representation of  connections between identities and hashtags. These have become my ‘nodes’ for the graph data. This analysis is not to do with individual volume, but rather with individual connectivity – i.e. the level of engagement between a user and their community. This is represented by the degree to which they include others in their postings by either mentioning them, or mentioning a hashtag.

The algorithm that I used initially was based on proximity. The number of times a topic is referenced influences how far apart the nodes are pushed. The more central nodes become the ones which have the most connections. More connections between any two nodes pushes those nodes closer. Because the central userbase was fairly small, the outliers had a large influence on the distribution of the nodes. Because the spatial distribution was weighted, operation could only perform so many iterations before it stopped expanding. As such, my initial graph looked like this:

ForceAtlas

 

You might be able to spot the outliers on the far left, and the duo of nodes on the far right of the image.

Trying again with a Fruchterman Rheingold algorithm left me with a distribution that attempted to (I think) centralise the individuals with the most connections – i.e. putting them equidistant from their communicators. I then applied a label weight feature to indicate the number of their connections to their counterparts. The bigger the text, the more times individuals connected to other people.

Weighted labels

You can open the images up in other windows if you want. They’re 1024×1024

Observations:

We’re a communications studies association, at a social-media themed conference so we might assume that there’s a fair amount of social media usage. There may well have been plenty of other communication going on over other channels. I’ve used PiratePad in the past for my collaborative conference notes, and Facebook, Xabber GChat, and email have been used for similar communicative channels at the conferences I’ve been to. I would say, though, that while there’s a fair amount of chatter, I don’t know to what extent there’s much reach outside a central pool of tweeters. Several people were paying attention externally of the conference, so there was at least some reach outside a closed bubble, but I think that’s the limit to which this piece of SNA can understand of #ANZCA14.

Reflections:

I guess it was fun to have a look at code again, and to manage data. It appeals, in that it’s fun to do, but I find it hard to draw conclusions that I find interesting from the data. I think the results and conclusions to be claimed from the subject matter is fairly limited, but that’s primarily due to my approach (i.e. I’m not approaching this with a set methodology, but rather just an underinformed method. I also don’t have a particular conclusion that I’m looking for beyond the connections themselves). Happy enough with theory stuff for now, academically speaking, but I’d like to try and find out sites where I can apply SNA in a more critical realm. Happy to take feedback and critique on Twitter @robbiefordyce 

Paypass

I was wondering about the security of the paypass system, and whether it is simply an acknowledgement by credit card security companies that the functional security of the signature-based payment system is essentially nil, and can justify the introduction of an RFID chip without a great change in consumers use of the card. Indeed, as many of the advertisements that seem to justify the PayPass system indicate, those who fail to utilize PayPass are old or slow or a hammer in the works, while those that do are able to hide their predilections for fun, are preppy go getters, able to survive first dates, or never ‘caught out’ without cash.
There’s plenty of videos out there that show how to ‘disable’ the RFID chips, with overtones of New World Order conspiracy theories of a broadly panoptic society; so, yeah, you can do that if you wish, but I would suggest that it’s probably a pain to do so. Given that the systems of capitalism can be understood without recourse to conspiracy, as long as you work within the exchange economy then you’re within a form of capture, and simply getting outside the limited organizational systems of one or two large companies or states doesn’t fundamentally remove oneself from those particular problems. It’s probably wiser to be aware of the obvious insecurity of such a device (i.e. the retail teller no longer even validates the identity of the payer with the card), and take precautionary measures. I’m more interested in the possible effects on businesses of having to install PayPass/EFTPOS devices at a rental/purchase cost, which may exert more of a difference in profits in terms of those that can or can’t abide by an increased pressure towards a cashless society.

two different capitalist subjects in videogames

I thought it was worthwhile to identify two different types of capitalist subject that exist within videogames. There is a continuum between the two character archetypes, and the distinction is not new, however I think that one type has been present, and dominant, for most of the history of videogaming – within videogames with internal economies, i.e. primarily, but not exclusively RPGs – and the other has had a bit more of an upswing in recent years.

The first type of character is a generic capitalist laborer – that is, someone who engages in the act of obtaining resources or capital on one level, and then taking it to the marketplace to exchange for better or more equipment. This is the type of engagement that goes on in games over much of the history of RPGs, and maybe a good example of this is the harvesting of equipment from games as early on as the early Eye of the Beholder games, Ultima, and the Elder Scrolls and Fallout series, right from the Black Isle days, through to Bethseda. This is an autonomous agent of capitalism that engages with merchants and resources pretty much as an individual within capitalism would as well. They obtain either capital or resources personally, that they then exchange, personally, with a merchant, and obtain better equipment, which allows for greater levels of harvesting. i.e. a traditional ‘grind’, a la Diablo 2.In this case, the means of production are essentially equipment, that multiplies the labour power of the subject (or character), and enables a greater degree of throughput. Strange that, if absent this specific tedium, many RPGs become unpopular on some level. I am attempting to think of RPGs that do not engage in this particular notion, but nothing immediately springs to mind. I have always considered RPGs to be the most capitalistic of all videogames, partly because of their economic relationship with resources and inflationary economies as the game progresses, but also because every element of the character that has input into the social or physical world is rendered in terms of stats that can be charted, compared, and prioritized – even charisma! This is also why the Neverwinter Nights games (and a bunch of others that operate on the same level) are closer to approaching a model of socialism if we use the same logic – all characters have the same number of distributed points, and are essentially equally advanced, but in different areas. Who remembers the endless re-rolling of early Angband/Rogue/NetHack/Baldur’s Gate characters? Nonetheless, this is one end of the spectrum of capitalist subjectivities within videogame characters that I have recently taken notice of.

The other end is the character who is an arbiter of an entire circuit of the capitalist mode of production. Here I am thinking of characters such as Connor from Assassin’s Creed 3 – the player is tasked with organizing labourers, subsuming natural and non-natural resources from the environment, engaging the labourers on the resources, distributing the resources to merchants, exchanging the resources, then reinvesting the M’ in both new resources and new means of production (better and more equipment). There are elements of this in Star Control II/Ur-Quan Masters, Mass Effect 1-2 (3, I assume, but I haven’t played it), Neverwinter Nights 2 (although the economic resources are not infinite, and arise from specific, story-based progress, rather than simple extraction), Skyrim (mining:crafting:sale:mining), and undoubtedly others that I haven’t considered, or haven’t played. These are all games that, more than the other end of the spectrum I mentioned, requires players to engage in a classic Marxist cycle of capitalism: consumption -> production -> distribution -> exchange -> consumption. All the while reinvesting new capital back into the process. In fact, this process solves the classic capitalist quandary that always occurs within these games! What do I do with all my money? By reinvesting it, by recreating the conditions for the emergence of profit, the excess capital is shifted into a space that puts it to some performative purpose, rather than simply letting it lie idle on the status bar of any shopping menu.

Note that I specify ‘characters’ – I do not consider the role of the player in games such as the Sims, Warcraft, the wide variety of Transport, Hotel, or Restaurant Tycoon type games to be the same – partly because the games are designed around an economy function, rather than having an economic function as an appendage to a storyline, and also because the player avatar is absent from the world itself. The player sits transcendent (or parallel) to the world, and views it through a porthole, and has little to no immanent affective relationship with the other characters in the world, other than in the form of pleas and pity more appropriate to a deity than a fellow human. However, in games such as NWN2 and Assassin’s Creed 3, the player has an avatar that can and is directly petitioned by the characters in the world – the capitalist becomes human, and sees the working class without risk. Perhaps this speaks to an emerging trend in videogames where a Jamesonian intervention on culture can produce new terms for problematizing capital? I think I will be using these ideas in the future for a new article at some point, and you can read my conclusions then.